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Imagine Franz Marc but softer, lighter, more flowy, with certainly fresher and more authentic perspectives. The resulting dream-like cosmic effect engulfs Wallace's characters, creating a sense of otherworldliness. writes Avantika Pathania.

Installation shot courtesy of Josh Lilley Gallery

40 Knots and How to Tie Them is Autumn Wallace’s first solo exhibition at Josh Lilley. The exhibition showcases several mystical, flexible figures on PVC canvases as well as sharp-bodied installations. Their artwork challenges common beliefs and stereotypes by offering complex and thought-provoking ideas.

The works at this exhibition draw inspiration from a book about knot-tying. They have been named after the intricate knots and the complexity of relationships, as both rely on friction and become weight-bearing when formed. Wallace explores gender, human sexuality, and the black femme experience through the mediums of painting and sculpture. Their art is influenced by Byzantine and Baroque styles, and what Wallace refers to as “low-quality adult materials.” Additionally, Wallace uses a variety of historical influences in their work, from religious art to folklore.

From right to left: Autumn Wallace, Leap Year, 2024, New Hobby, 2024. Images courtesy of Josh Lilley.

Upon entering, one is greeted by a striking orange-headed hobby horse (New Hobby, 2024) along with two large canvases dominated with hues of blue and sangria. There are four captivating sculptures on display across two floors of the gallery. The initial impression may be one of caution: they are colourful, sharp, vibrant, and complex. Though they are tempting to touch, one senses that they are also carefully protected, delicately adorned with beads. The overall effect is both fascinating and disconcerting, evoking a sense of intrigue and unease. Leap Year (2024) shows two therianthropic forms, presumably a black rabbit and a lioness having intercourse, and Up Right (2024) depicts a figure in a contorted pose reminiscent of the Japanese rope-art of shibari.

From left to right: Yellow Pages, 2024, Artichoke Heart, 2024, Cant Stand The Rain (Glory, Glory), 2024,

Wallace draws inspiration from a diverse range of historical sources, including religious iconography, folkloric knowledge, German Expressionism, and Byzantine aesthetics. Their creative process involves extensive research, resulting in multi-layered and open-ended propositions that challenge stereotypes. Set in neo-mythological scenes, Wallace’s characters inhabit a land that transcends time and space. This exhibit showcases the rich tradition of African American folk art, specifically the memory jug which is often used to commemorate the deceased. Wallace’s pieces transport the viewer into a unique world, imbued with mystical charm, yet grounded in the weight of lived experience - two facets of the same intricate tapestry.

Seeing the face of SpongeBob on a t-shirt being removed off in Seconds (2024) is an unexpected visual delight, as Wallace takes inspiration from 90s cartoons. It feels as if SpongeBob himself is being removed from the woman’s body. Additionally, another beloved character, Bert from Sesame Street, makes an appearance (actually twice) in a work titled Cant Stand the Rain (Glory, Glory) (2024). These artworks are masterpieces that showcase the artist's creativity and ability to incorporate iconic characters into their work without falling into pastiche.

Wallace’s works are a stimulating blend of varying elements that come together to create a unique experience for the viewer. The paintings are characterized by impasto-like brushstrokes. Imagine Franz Marc but softer, lighter, and more flowy with certainly fresher and more authentic perspectives. The resulting dream-like, cosmic effect engulfs the characters, creating a sense of otherworldliness. The sculptures, on the other hand, are sharp and pointy, with intricate details that make them seem almost menacing. The stark contrast between the soft, dreamy paintings and the sharp, pointy sculptures creates a fascinating juxtaposition that draws the viewer in. The paintings are like a glimpse into another world, while the sculptures are a reminder of the harsh realities of the world we live in. It is a testament to Wallace’s vision and skill that they have managed to combine these disparate elements in such a seamless manner. The resulting works are not only visually stunning but also induce the viewer to think about the world around them in a new way.

Autumn Wallace, Up Right, 2024

Wallace employs a range of unconventional techniques to transport us to imaginative realms where established ideas of intimacy and physicality collide. Their arsenal consists of intangible and non-quantifiable tools evoking memory and mnemonics, and other mnemonic devices, which serve as instruments for reinventing existing concepts. By leveraging these tools, we are granted access to a world of endless possibilities.

40 Knots and How to Tie Them runs from 10 May to 22 June 2024, from 11 am – 6 pm at Josh Lilley, 40-46 Riding House Street, London.


Avantika Pathania is a London-based writer and arts journalist.


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